China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, has been replaces by his predecessor, Wang Yi four weeks after his last public appearance. There was no explanation for the termination, according to China’s state media Xinhuanet.
The inexplicable disappearance of 57-year-old Qin, who was formerly considered close to President Xi Jinping, generated widespread curiosity. Officials had previously claimed “health reasons” without further explanation.
The news that Qin Gang had lost his position was huge here, but it was conveyed without fanfare and with little explanation, as is customary.
Only half a year after being appointed, a few phrases on the Xinhua wire service, which were then read out on the major evening TV news bulletin, signalled the dramatic end of Mr Qin’s term as China’s global public face.
He had departed from his customary duties around a month ago, with the official explanation of health concern.
However, when the weeks passed and he failed to reappear, attention turned to the idea that he was being punished for political dissent.
Then there were rumours of an affair with a female television personality, who was generally extremely active on social media but had also mysteriously “disappeared”
Some observers in China have pondered if these two possible theories could be combined: that rivals within the Communist Party utilised his moral indiscretion to get him.
Although such an affair would not be illegal, it may be interpreted as a potential breach of Party discipline.
One of the most startling features of Qin Gang’s demise is that he was widely believed to have the full support of the country’s all-powerful leader.
China’s President Xi Jinping flew him back from Washington, where he was serving as ambassador to the United States.
He appeared to be the type of modern, sophisticated servant that the Communist Party need – someone they would have bottled and cranked out a hundred times over if they could.
But his fate is now uncertain. The Foreign Ministry’s website is already removing references to Qin Gang.
Qin Gang, who was born in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin in 1966, studied international politics at China’s elite University of International Relations in Beijing before joining the diplomatic service. He held various positions at the Foreign Ministry as well as the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom.
Qin served as foreign ministry spokesman twice, from 2006 to 2014, and as chief protocol officer from 2014 to 2018, managing many of Xi’s encounters with foreign leaders.
Qin Gang’s ascension in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was “rapid,” according to Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu.
After serving as ambassador to the United States for two years, he became one of the youngest foreign ministers in December 2022, at the age of 57.
“Qin managed to achieve in years what other officials would have taken decades,” Yu remarked from Beijing.
As a ministry spokesman, he was notable for being one of the first diplomats to come out vigorously in support of China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, a style dubbed as “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
Wang Yi’s return to a role he held for the majority of the last decade is unlikely to change the direction of a difficult bilateral relationship or allay concerns about President Xi Jinping‘s government’s opaque workings.
Wang has been a mainstay in US-China relations for years, recognised in Washington for his sharp intellect and sometimes combative defence of China’s interests.
Analysts in Washington believe Wang’s return to the ministry will help China’s foreign ministry resume normal functioning following weeks of worldwide uncertainty about Qin’s fate.
However, it is unlikely to result in a significant improvement in hostile US-China relations, which have reached their lowest point in decades.